The Western Washington University Hip-Hop Dance Team performs at their annual showcase. // Photo by Emily Feek
By Emily Feek
When the stage lights turned on, the WWU Hip-Hop Dance Team entered the Performing Arts Center stage and assembled into three lines. As the music grew louder, the team members marched further out onstage, marking the opening performance of the 11th annual WWUHHDT showcase, “WWUrth Your Wild.”
WWUHHDT is a student hip-hop dance team on campus, run and organized completely by its members. The 2018-19 team had a lineup of 18 members, including three team captains, according to captain Erin Johnson.
Their spring showcase, held on Saturday, April 27, was the culmination of the year’s work, and featured other hip-hop groups from across Washington state.
The showcase brought things full-circle for Rhianna Kubena, a first-year student on the team. Kubena said she performed in the showcase two years ago as a member on one of the visiting teams.
Kubena estimated that she’s been dancing for about 14 years. She has dabbled in many genres, but said hip-hop is her favorite form of dance.
“I like hip-hop music, and I just really feel the beats a lot more,” Kubena said. “It’s a lot of fun, instead of [like] sad, in contemporary.”
Kubena said hip-hop dance is less organized and more upbeat than other styles like contemporary and that she feels she can be more authentically herself.
Joining the student hip-hop group was a driving force in Kubena’s decision to attend Western, she said.
“I knew I was going to do it, that was one of the main reasons I came here,” Kubena said. “My hip-hop teacher used to be a captain on the team. I kind of wanted to follow in her footsteps.”
The team rehearsed twice a week throughout the year, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Kubena said she had to deal with an injury this season in addition to the time commitment.
Kubena had a stress fracture in her lower back and a disc protrusion and wore a back brace for a while, she said. Kubena said she’s now brace-free but the injury could still pose a problem for her dance performances.
“Technically I’m not supposed to be dancing,” Kubena said. “I don’t know my limits and I just love dancing so much, so I keep pushing no matter what.”
As part of the team, Kubena performed during halftime at basketball games. The showcase was their first performance onstage this year.
“Onstage is where I’m most comfortable, and I haven’t done anything onstage in a while,” Kubena said. “We’ve just been on basketball courts, so I’m really excited for our showcase.”
In addition to performing at Western’s basketball games, the WWUHHDT organized a number of fundraisers throughout the year. The student-run group does not receive funding from Western, according to the Western Involvement Network website and Johnson.
Johnson, a senior, said the captains wanted to limit out-of-pocket expenses for team members.
To accomplish this, the team hosted bake sales and dance workshops where the team taught hip-hop dances to attendees. They also sold team merchandise and Krispy Kreme donuts at the showcase, Kubena said.
While the annual showcase was Kubena’s first time performing on stage with WWUHHDT, it marked Johnson’s last performance with the team. At the end of spring quarter, Johnson said she will graduate with a major in dance and a minor in arts enterprise and cultural innovation.
Johnson said over the four years she’s been on the team, she’s developed close relationships with her teammates.
“This team became my family,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who came to Western from Vermont, auditioned for the hip-hop team on a whim during her first year. Since then, she adopted the role as a captain, helping manage the team, choreograph and delegate roles.
“It went by really fast. I’m in shock right now, it hasn’t sunk in,” Johnson said after the showcase.
Although Johnson’s time with the team has come to an end, the dance team is looking forward to its next season. The team will have four captains next year, including returning captains Valerie Goliff and Jade Jordan.
Goliff, a third-year double majoring in dance and psychology, cited Johnson as an inspiration, and said her motivation has rubbed off on the team.
“Erin, I might cry if I talk about her,” Goliff said. “She literally just goes for it. There’s no other way I can put it. She always accomplishes what she sets out to accomplish.”
Students interested in the WWUHHDT can find more information online. The hip-hop dance team will be at the Info Fair next fall. Tryouts are always held during the first week of classes, Johnson said.